The Third Rail of Regulation

[Commentary] The Federal Communications Commission dropped a planned study of newsrooms, following objections that the government has no business meddling with journalism. The critics were right, but it's a shame the FCC gave up so quickly. Even the brief experience of being micromanaged by regulators reminded reporters and editors of the kind of government overreach every other industry routinely experiences. Thanks to the First Amendment, journalists operate in the least regulated industry. Even broadcasters, whose licenses have to be renewed every eight years, are supposed to have free speech. The FCC made the mistake of touching the third rail of regulation by applying the heavy hand of government to journalism. The spectacle of the FCC's abandoning this study is a reminder that this remains the agency posing the greatest threat to the open Internet. Lobbyists for "net neutrality" want the FCC to set rules for the Internet on everything from how content is sent across the network to pricing.

Will the agency now also invoke "net neutrality" for a study on how bloggers make their news decisions? Will bureaucrats review the demographics of people posting YouTube videos? Can regulators require Facebook and Twitter to have a "fair" representation of links to news and opinion articles by their users around the world?

If overregulation is the norm for every other industry, it would be understandable if critics of the news media objected that this should be should be fine for the news industry, too. A better response would be to use this episode to demand that regulators do more to liberate every other industry.


The Third Rail of Regulation